2019-2020 University Catalog 
    Jul 14, 2024  
2019-2020 University Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Physics and Astronomy

Professors Balonek, Galvez, Segall
Associate Professors Bary, Crotty (Chair), J. Levine, Metzler, Parks
Assistant Professors Tseng
Visiting Assistant Professor Isakovic, Ilie, Salgado

A student should select a major in the Department of Physics and Astronomy if he or she is interested in fundamental questions about the nature of matter and the nature of the universe, or in practical questions of engineering, applied physics, or space science. To be successful, a student should also enjoy mathematics and quantitative reasoning. More than half of the graduating seniors in this department go to graduate school in various disciplines, and many earn PhDs in physics, astronomy, and engineering. Approximately 25 percent enter technical careers directly after graduation. The others pursue careers in teaching, business (often technology-based), management, medicine, and other areas.

The department offers several courses of general interest, not intended for majors. These courses are ASTR 101 - Solar System Astronomy ; ASTR 102 - Stars, Galaxies, and the Universe ; ASTR 230 - Astronomy in Culture ; PHYS 105 - Mechanical Physics I ; and PHYS 111 - Fundamental Physics I , PHYS 112 - Fundamental Physics II .

To be Eligible to Graduate

To be eligible to graduate with a major in any of the programs of this department, a student is expected to achieve a grade of C– or better in each of the courses offered in the department that are required for the major. There are no exceptions to this policy. Additionally, a student’s cumulative GPA for all courses counted toward the major must be at least 2.00.


The Edwin Foster Kingsbury Prizes — established as an annual award to those students whose performance and promise is judged by the department to be the most outstanding during the year of the award.

The Joseph C. Amato & Anthony F. Aveni Award for Student Research — Awarded to those students showing excellence in scientific research.

The Physics and Astronomy Alumni Awards — awarded by the department to those students majoring in physics and astronomy, who, in the opinion of the department, have made the most significant progress in the study of their major subject and the relations of this science to other fields of learning.

The Physics and Astronomy Department Founders Award — awarded periodically by the department to a senior who has demonstrated four years of outstanding progress and development of his or her understanding of physics or astronomy.

Advanced Placement

Credit for PHYS 111  will be granted to students who score 4 or 5 on the AP Physics 1 exam or the AP Physics C-Mechanics exam. Credit for PHYS 112  will be granted to students who score 4 or 5 on the AP Physics 2 exam or the AP Physics C-E&M exam. Placement into PHYS 232  without completion of PHYS 131  can sometimes be allowed following discussion with the department chair and the PHYS 232  instructor. Department majors who do not complete PHYS 131  will be required to complete an additional upper-level course to meet the major requirements. Placement out of PHYS 232  or PHYS 233  based on high school courses (including AP) is not normally possible.


To qualify for graduation with honors, physics and astronomy-physics students must be invited by the department chair, in consultation with department faculty, to do an honors thesis. Normally, this invitation is extended only after exceptional performance in the capstone course PHYS 410 

The following are also required:

  1. The completion (with a grade of C- or better) of at least two additional 300- or 400-level physics or astronomy courses beyond the minimum needed for the major.  ,  ,  ,  ,  ,  , and   do not count towards this requirement. With the permission of the chair, a 300- or 400-level course in another NASC department may substitute for one of these courses.
  2. A cumulative GPA of at least 3.5 in all 300- and 400-level classes taken to satisfy the upper-level course requirements for the major and for honors.
  3. The completion, defense, and public presentation of an honors thesis. This thesis, to be evaluated by department faculty and an external reviewer, is normally a significant extension of the work completed in  . Students normally enroll in   or   during the spring semester of their senior year to complete the work.

The department faculty will subsequently determine whether to award honors or high honors. Neither is guaranteed. High honors will be given only for truly extraordinary work.

Transfer Credit

Transfer of credit for physics and astronomy courses from other colleges or universities requires approval by the department. In particular, summer courses taken with the expectation of transfer credit must be pre-approved by the department well in advance of enrollment. Students should be aware that few institutions offer summer equivalents for major-sequence courses other than PHYS 232  and PHYS 233 , and also that a grade of C or higher is required to transfer coursework for Colgate credit. After matriculation, no more than 2 transferred course credits may count towards the physics or astronomy-physics major.

Pre-requisites and Minimum Grade Requirements

Prerequisite and minimum grade requirements will be strictly enforced for both majors and non-majors. Students who have not taken

 , and students who have received less than a C- in the lecture portion of  , may take   with the   instructor’s permission. Otherwise, students will not be permitted to take any department course that has prerequisites before achieving a grade of C- or better in the lecture portion of each prerequisite.  Exceptions will be made to this policy only in extraordinary circumstances.

International Exam Transfer Credit

Transfer credit and/or placement appropriate to academic development of a student may be granted to incoming first year students who have achieved a score on an international exam (e.g., A-Levels, International Baccalaureate) that indicates a level of competence equivalent to the completion of a specific course in the department. Requests should be directed to the department chair. Any such credit may not be used to fulfill the university areas of inquiry requirement, but may count towards the major.

Related Majors

Pre-Engineering Studies

The department offers two ways to prepare for engineering: major in physics at Colgate and after graduation go to graduate school in engineering, or use one of the combined plans available in the department. To allow a student to combine education in the liberal arts with engineering training, Colgate has cooperative agreements with Columbia University and Washington University. A student may spend three years at Colgate and two at the engineering school (the 3-2 plan) to earn bachelor’s degrees from both institutions. The student may be eligible to continue study for a Master of Science (MS) degree, which can sometimes be completed in as little as one additional year after earning the bachelor’s degree in engineering. Eligibility for the MS program is determined by the engineering school.

It is imperative for students interested in the 3-2 plan to begin the physics and math curriculum in the fall term of the first year. To be eligible for the 3-2 plan, a student must complete all physics major courses through PHYS 336  and PHYS 431  (or PHYS 451 ), plus one other upper-level physics course to be chosen in consultation with the pre-engineering adviser.

Prerequisites for admission to engineering schools vary among schools and fields of study; therefore, it is necessary to indicate an interest in pre-engineering to the physics faculty as soon as possible.

Preparation for Graduate School

Students intending to pursue graduate studies in physics, astronomy, or engineering should discuss their plans with their major advisers as early as possible. Students who wish to prepare for graduate studies in physics or astronomy should complete PHYS 431 , PHYS 432 , PHYS 433  and PHYS 434 . To enrich the program, a student should choose additional physics and astronomy electives at the 300 and 400 levels. Advanced courses in other science departments, especially mathematics, are also encouraged.

Teacher Certification

The Department of Educational Studies offers a teacher education program for majors in physics who are interested in pursuing a career in elementary or secondary school teaching. Please refer to Educational Studies .

Majors and Minors